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Chris Odell....Life With the Beatles


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Thursday, October 15, 2009

Chris O'Dell recounts her life with Beatles and other music legends

Susan Whitall / The Detroit News

In the decades since the '60s and Beatlemania, technology changed. Records gave way to tapes, which were tossed in favor of CDs.

In September, the Beatles catalog was released in digitally remastered form. Now you can have all the Fab Four's generation-defining music, delivered digitally to the geek device of your choice. Of course, the music sounds different. If hearing the cowbell too prominently on "Taxman" shatters your world and messes with those childhood memories, it's best to stick to the Beatles on vinyl or CD. But for most listeners, the remastered sessions are a reminder of what it was like to hear the Beatles with fresh ears.

For Chris O'Dell, the Beatles will always sound fresh. She worked for them at Apple Records in the '60s, and she's written an account of those London years in a new book, "Miss O'Dell: My Hard Days and Long Nights with The Beatles, The Stones, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, and the Women They Loved" (Simon & Schuster, $26), now in bookstores.

"They felt fresh," says O'Dell from her Arizona home. "They still do. My son was playing some old Beatles album in his truck recently, and I said, 'Oh my gosh, that reminds me why it was so exciting.' There was definitely an English sound, so different than anything we were hearing at that time. I was into R&B and Motown and everything. But suddenly there's this freshness and this innocence."

A native Oklahoman, O'Dell in 1964 fell in love with the Beatles in front of her TV set. Through a series of lucky breaks, notably meeting Beatles publicist Derek Taylor in Los Angeles in 1968, at the age of 20 she found herself in the Beatles' inner circle.

George Harrison wrote a song for her ("Miss O'Dell"), as did her boyfriend, Leon Russell ("Pisces Apple Lady"). She was there on the roof of Apple when the Beatles famously performed "Hey Jude" on TV. She watched as they recorded at Abbey Road, and was best friends with George's wife, Pattie Boyd. She had affairs with Ringo Starr, Mick Jagger and Bob Dylan. O'Dell and Joni Mitchell vied for the attention of Sam Shepard while on the road with Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue (Mitchell referred to her in the song "Coyote" as "the woman down the hall").

As O'Dell writes in the book's foreward: "I wasn't famous. I wasn't even almost famous. But I was there ..."

She paid a price for her fast-paced life as part of the rock world elite, developing a serious drug problem she managed to overcome years later.

After her time with the Beatles, O'Dell worked for the Rolling Stones on several tours and was such a trusted intimate she once picked up drugs for Keith Richards. But her heart was always with the Beatles.

"The Beatles were more -- I hate to use the word more respectable, but in a way that's true," O'Dell says. "They were the boys next door while the Stones were the boys on the other side of the fence that you weren't allowed to talk to. I appreciated that freshness. It was the Beatles' music that inspired me more than the Stones' music."

That O'Dell kept diaries during her work at Apple, and as a tour manager for the Rolling Stones, Santana and the Rolling Thunder Revue, helped in putting together her story. She'd written a series of essays about her experiences, then ended up working with a writer, Katherine Ketcham, who pressed her to go deeper into her memory bank, even if the stories were painful or made her look bad.

Unlike most memoirs written by the famous, O'Dell's book is honest about her stumbles. She was a loyal friend to Pattie Boyd and thus never became involved with George (it helped that Boyd asked her not to), but the situation with Ringo Starr was a bit more complicated.

There was a long-rumored love triangle within the Beatles camp involving George Harrison, Ringo Starr and Ringo's wife Maureen. That George had an affair with Maureen has been written about, but O'Dell reveals in book that she became involved with Ringo soon after.

Back in the day, Ringo was angry when O'Dell admitted the affair to Maureen.

"I never felt that I was invading anybody's territory," O' Dell says. "Obviously, I'm telling things that happened to other people, but they also happened to me.

"We're in our 60s now, some of us are even creeping toward 70s," O'Dell muses. "Everybody is grown up enough to realize this is what happened. We're well past it. Ringo's attitude today is, fine, as long as you tell the truth."

O'Dell was also right at the center of another rock 'n' roll love triangle -- Eric Clapton's unrequited (then requited) love for Harrison's wife Boyd, which led to heroin addiction (and his iconic album "Layla").

"What's hard for people to understand is that was such a very small circle of people within that rock 'n' roll world," O'Dell says. "The Beatles' world was very small. Eric came into that circle because he and George were friends. When the relationships started happening, it made sense. It was safer to stay in that world than to wander outside."

Somewhat ironically, considering her wild days during the drug-fueled '60s and '70s as an employee, girlfriend and tour manager (one of the first females to be a tour manager), O'Dell's current career is as a substance abuse counselor. She thinks it helped her dig deeply into her memory bank and be honest about her experiences.

For example, she doesn't gloss over the casual nature of relationships in the '70s music world. While working on the Stones' tour, she became involved with Jagger, because that's what women close to him were expected to do.

She was involved briefly with Dylan, but writes honestly about the many times he would look right through her. "It would be easy to say Bob loved me and always wanted to be with me," O'Dell says with a laugh. "But I talk about his eyes darting around, that insensitivity."

Chris O'Dell on

The song "Miss O'Dell": "It's an obscure song. You have to be a pretty good Beatle fan to know it. George and Pattie were in L.A. in '72 or '73 and George had recorded it. One day, he said, 'You're going to love this, they want to release "Miss O'Dell" as the A side of my single.' But in the end ... I was a B side."

Being in the right place at the right time : "I did a interview that ended up in Girl Scout magazine called 'Chris and the Beatles, the girl who lived the life of millions.' I was very aware early on that I was in a very special situation ... so I remembered things from that point of view, almost like an observer. I started writing down stories about 10 years ago."

Motown: "I went from Smokey who wanted to take me with all that sexuality, to the Beatles -- all they wanted to do was hold my hand. George and I were talking one day, he said 'oh, Smokey Robinson is my favorite, too.' "

Paul McCartney: " He's a good guy ... I saw him at the (Cirque de Soleil) Beatles Love show (in Las Vegas) very briefly ... and that was a bad time for him, he was getting divorced. He was always a very present person and charming. He was always the marketing genius."

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What about the Beatles? Is there a forum for them?

There is a BEATLES forum in the works as we speak. There is a PAUL McCARTNEY forum, RINGO STARR forum and a GEORGE HARRISON forum. I'm not sure if JOHN LENNON'S forum is up yet, I'll have to check and get back to you on that. ROF my dear!

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